Today I am meeting Tonie Leatherberry in Georgetown, DC — a charming neighborhood with cobblestone streets, shops, and cafes.
Tonie is a passionate and invested leader, who devoted much of her professional life to create opportunities for women and people of color. At Deloitte, Tonie was the principal architect of The Board Leadership Forum and NextGen CEO Academy, each of which has had a meaningful impact, ultimately placing more than 70 Black leaders into executive-level and board roles. I look forward to asking Tonie her views on diversity and its importance on a board.
Tonie and I get seated outdoors, under the strong DC sun. An occasional cool breeze creates the perfect balance.
Tonie, one of your key communication subjects is diversity. Why is it such an important subject at a board level? What is your approach toward building a diverse company board?
Tonie brings her hand to her chin, in deep thought. After a few moments of introspection, she answers with a smile.
“The first step is identifying diversity as a business challenge and then treating it as any other business challenge. We need to reflect our client’s values and business issues and the customers that we serve. If a company is trying to improve every business dimension like revenue, cost containment, profit margin, market expansion — they have to focus on everyone and be inclusive. An organization will only go so far if they are focused on one channel or set of individuals.
“Organizations should be constantly challenging themselves — how can they leverage diversity from a business performance standpoint? Currently, diversity is thought of as merely altruistic, philanthropic, or simply ‘doing good’. While there is nothing wrong with supporting your local college and so on, you must think about how you will use that eventually for business development. I think these are the things which boards are ultimately responsible for in terms of long term strategy of an organization. Boards should be focusing on diversity as though it were any other business dimension.”
Thanks for an interesting take on diversity, Tonie.